Perhaps one of the most used condiments in the world, ketchup, was originally sold as medicine. This occurred way back in the 1830’s, in a time of the travelling snake oil salesmen, who would peddle all kinds of concoctions that apparently had miracle healing properties. So what exactly was it about ketchup that apparently had health benefits?
Today we all know how eating the right food can have significant health benefits. It’s also no real secret that tomatoes have a lot of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help make us healthier. But a lot of these benefits that we know about haven’t always been common knowledge. Going back in time not too far, even the experts didn’t know why certain foods were good for you, or how they provided a benefit. But even though tomatoes, and by proxy ketchup due to its high content of the fruit, are healthy, the peddlers who originally sold ketchup as a drug in the first half of the nineteenth century didn’t do it for health reasons. They did it to boost sales.
Back in the 1830’s ketchup wasn’t the common place item that it is today. Sales were weak, and something had to be done. One enterprising, and very creative manufacturer came up with the idea of marketing it as a pharmaceutical. This was really a brilliant idea because drugs that can cure or relieve ailments are generally in high demand.
Ketchup was made into a pill form and was relabelled as Dr. Miles Compound Extract of Tomato, and it was claimed to be able to cure everything from baldness to athletes foot. It was sold as the new wonder drug. To counter the boost in sales, competitor the H.J. Heinz company gathered scientific studies that said ketchup contains antioxidant properties, which it does, and that it can cure cancer. While these claims are technically correct, the levels of the carotenoid known as lycopene are so low, the benefits would be negligible, if any at all. You would literally have to consume gallons of ketchup on a daily basis for it to cure anything.
In the end the endeavor failed, and everyone who was making the new medicine soon wrapped up business. But the downfall could have been attributed to the fact that many of the pills didn’t even contain tomatoes, but instead were laxatives. There’s also the chance that anyone who did feel healthier from taking this treatment may have felt better from the additional exercise caused by the treatment, by running to the bathroom.
So while ketchup was originally sold as a medicine, it was only as a marketing gimmick. It’s not really all that dissimilar to soft drink manufacturers today marketing bottled water as spring fresh, or from the rainforests, when the reality is that it is just ordinary water direct from a tap.